1. The Bean’s Knees
Now, a good quality coffee bean is essential for a great cup of coffee. Obviously. The quality alone is not going to put a smile on your face though. You need the right bean for the job. It all depends on how you’re making it and how you like to drink it.
Three simple questions you’ll need to answer:
- How are you preparing it (espresso machine, stovetop, filter, plunger)?
- Are you drinking your coffee with milk or not?
- Do you like it punch-in-the-face-strong or feather-fluffy-weak?
Simple questions, complex answer. If you want to make sure you get it right, it may be best to talk to us. To get you started though, here are some general pointers:
Get an espresso blend for your espresso machine and get a single origin for your filters and plunger coffees. A stovetop can probably handle both, but a single origin will be better if you drink it black.
If you drink it with milk, you need a stronger coffee with good body to penetrate through. If you drink it black, you can enjoy higher quality coffees as their subtle flavour profiles are not muted by cow. Also, more acidic coffees can be less enjoyable when mixed with milk.
If you like it stronger, using more coffee grinds will also make your beverage stronger. However, this only works up to a point. Eventually the ratio of coffee to water will go out of range and your coffee will taste less than enjoyable. Go for a heavier bodied coffee instead and enjoy stronger flavours without losing the quality.
2. The Daily Grind
During the roasting process, CO2 gas is released inside the bean. The trapped gas protects the volatile chemical flavour components from the nasty oxygen in the air and keeps your coffee fresh for longer. However, the bean can’t hold on to the CO2 forever and it eventually escapes (this is why we have valves build into our coffee bags. Without a valve, fresh coffee would make the coffee bags explode). In an intact bean, this process of outgassing may take three to six weeks (depending on bean and roast profile), after which the coffee tastes stale.
However, the moment you grind coffee into small particles, all the carbon-dioxide is released immediately, and coffee will stale within 15 minutes. This is why it’s best to grind your coffee fresh, just before you make it.
If you don’t have a grinder at home and have to buy your coffee pre-ground, keep it in an airtight container, out of sunlight (UV radiation is also detrimental to coffee’s health).
3. Temperature is Paramount
This is something often overlooked or dismissed: water temperature is critical for a good coffee extraction. As a general rule, you’re looking for around 95°C hot water.
An espresso machine will usually handle it for you, so you don’t have to. A filter machine may get it right, but only if it’s of good quality. The cheaper kinds often don’t have heating elements strong or precise enough. If you’re using a kettle, bring the water to the boil and simply wait until it’s stopped bubbling. Then pour off.
4. Let it Bloom
As mentioned above, fresh coffee has CO2 gas trapped inside and, although it keeps the flavour in when you store coffee, you need to get rid of it, when extracting. The gas needs to be replaced by water so that flavour can be washed out and enter your cup.
The more expensive espresso machines will do this for you (often called pre-infusion). Automatic filter machines are generally not capable of doing it. If you prepare yourself though, you should start by pouring just enough water over your coffee that all grinds are wet (but not under water). A fresh coffee should start to move and rise as the gas is released and water is soaked up by the coffee particles. Count to roughly 30 seconds and then continue pouring as usual.
5. Time’s Up
Any experienced barista knows how important extraction time is. The extraction time is the time the water is in contact with the coffee grinds and washes out flavours. Too short and it tastes bitter, harsh, and grassy. Too long, and it tastes overly strong, carbony, and burnt.
The same is true for filter and plunger coffees. Whereas in espresso making you’re looking at about 30-60 seconds, in filters and plungers, you’re looking at about 4-6 minutes (the water only flows around the coffee and is not forced through it by pump pressure, as it is in an espresso machine). So, if you have a filter machine that takes 10 minutes for a run, it may be time to upgrade to a better machine.